On: (l-r) Steve and Rocky Roy. Photo: Joe Putrock
Rockin the Suburbs
Music Shack pulls up its stakes in downtown Albany and
sets up camp in Colonie
music enthusiasts will have to travel just a little further
in search of new music now that Music Shack is packing up
and moving up Central Avenue into Colonie.
been a rough year,” full of tough decisions, said Rocky Roy,
co-owner of Music Shack, from behind the counter. The original
Music Shack in Troy, which Roy’s father opened 30 years ago,
closed in February, and now the Albany shop is readying for
more change. Rocky and his brother Steve say the move is bittersweet,
but it would have taken quite a lot to get them to stay.
can’t see anybody in their right mind doing business down
here,” Rocky Roy said, though he’s stuck it out for 21 years
on Central Avenue. In that span, Music Shack has faced many
of the same problems as any independent shop: big stores skimming
away customers, “stealing” (what Roy calls downloading), and
the advent of burning instead of buying. “We’ve lost over
40 percent of our business over the last four years,” he said.
So rather than watching the slide continue, it was time to
rethink things. After consolidating resources into the Albany
shop, the same complaints kept coming to the fore: problems
with crime and parking.
Roy said it’s not that he’s getting old, it’s that the neighborhood’s
getting rougher, and many of his customers agree. “If people
feel there’s a problem with parking or muggings they won’t
come,” said Roy, adding that customers are afraid to park
off of the block because of the crime. But perceptions aside,
Roy still would have moved: “Just what I witnessed was enough.”
Two years ago, Roy spotted crack dealers and a hooker turning
tricks across the street, and a store with bootlegged CDs
up the block, all flagging his customers down. Then Music
Shack experienced two attempted burglaries within six months,
and the cops involved told him even more stories he didn’t
want to hear. He’s also had bunches of kids try to steal from
him, and when he kicked them out they threatened to cut him
up and worse. “Having a militia out there would be the only
thing to keep me here,” he said, half-joking.
Interestingly, Biff and Abram Pock, the son-father team who
run the 55-year-old Blue Note Records a few blocks up Central
Avenue, have not experienced comparable problems. And according
to Anthony Capece, executive director of the Central Business
Improvement District, “Your car is more likely to be broken
into at Crossgates Mall than it is on Central Avenue.”
To Roy, the parking problems have not been relieved by the
avenue’s new meters [“Pleased to Meter You,” Oct. 9], and
won’t be without a residential and employee permit system
and the creation of new lots using “nothing short of wrecking
balls.” People have to let go of some historic architecture
in the name of making necessary improvements, he said. “What
do you want to have? People driving down a street with the
door locked looking at old buildings or pulling into a lot,
getting out and shopping?”
But Capece thinks the meters are working, and said business
on Central Avenue is experiencing something of a renaissance.
“Right in the area where [Music Shack is] located, there’s
about 1,000 employees that weren’t here three years ago,”
he said, and they’re in what were “blighted, boarded-up buildings”
a few years ago.
The Roys are taking the family business to the strip-malled
lots of Central Avenue in Colonie—still on the bus line—to
a new space next to Soccer Unlimited and across from Grandma’s,
and are confident their devoted customers will follow them.
we lose in terms of those people who won’t want to make the
trek there, we’ll make up for that by people who don’t want
to come down here,” Roy said.
Roy knows neighborhood retailers survive by giving their customers
what they want. When the Albany store opened in 1982, the
family expanded their stock to suit the taste of a DJ market
and, as Roy proudly notes, it was “the first store in the
area to have a rap section back in ’83.” But don’t think that
means they’ll have to push the new Britney album in Colonie.
“I refuse,” Roy said. “If it gets to that point I’m out of
to be heard: (l-r) Gloria DiLella, Velma McCargo, Barbara
LaRose, Peter Rinne, George Dersham, Brianna van der
Hoef, Alice Raab, Pat Kelly. Photo: John Whipple
Some residents of Albanys Park South say the citys
attempt to get their input didnt go far enough
chairs around the square of tables were full, and latecomers
stood in a cluster by the door as last Thursday’s (Dec. 11)
meeting of the Park South Neighborhood Association got underway.
The tone was friendly and fairly upbeat as the 35 or so people
present discussed their annual Christmas party, snow removal
(better than last year) and even helicopter noise. But then
association president Andrew Harvey took a deep breath and
raised the topic that has never been far from the minds of
those in the room this year: the revitalization planning process
for the neighborhood.
Emotion rose to the surface quickly, as people raised familiar
points both for and against the plan. [See “Wither Park South?”
Dec. 4, 2003.] Among those who spoke, critics outnumbered
supporters of the draft plan by at least two to one, and they
got several loud rounds of applause. They raised concerns
about displacement, abuse of eminent domain and being saddled
with a huge concentration of students without being consulted,
while supporters of the process insisted that bold strokes
are both necessary and desirable in the long term to turn
the neighborhood around.
Some who didn’t speak up at the time nonetheless had strong
feelings. “Four- hundred students will be much better than
even four crackheads,” said Jude Ojukwu, grimly, from his
home just outside the plan boundaries on Morris Street. Ojukwu
has attended most of the meetings on the subject but prefers
to listen. He is frustrated with what he sees as stalling
based on narrow self-interest.
But even more than the substantive disagreements, much of
what has people upset is the feeling that they’ve been cut
out of the process.
Barbara LaRose, a member of the stakeholder advisory committee,
said she feels like that committee was more of a “sounding
board” whose job was to advise the city and consultant on
how to sell their ideas to the neighborhood, rather than to
shape the outcomes substantially. She noted that the focus
groups were held from 9 to 5 on election day, hardly accessible
to many working people.
meetings were a sham, they were a checklist, there’s a certain
procedure they have to go through,” said Lou Hacker, who owns
property in Park South, but doesn’t live there.
Pat Kelly, leader of the local Walk & Watch, said it felt
like the main ideas of the plan were being “crammed down our
Lori Harris, Albany’s planning commissioner, said the city
is in fact gathering feedback right now, and that the full
plan won’t even be presented until January. “We asked [people]
to contact us if they had additional comments,” she said.
“The past 60–75 days has been all about gathering input, to
try to get as much feedback as possible. . . . We’re gathering
up not only what the people have said, but also what the economists
When asked why Park South has not had a planning charette,
where residents gather for a daylong meeting to discuss what
they want to see in their neighborhood, something the Upper
New Scotland area had during its planning process, Harris
said that was appropriate at the design stage. “In Park South
we’re talking about the economic feasibility issues,” she
said. “We’re so conceptual at this point, design isn’t our
But Tom Angotti, urban planning professor at Hunter College
and former chair of the Graduate Center for Planning and the
Environment at Pratt Institute, said that a hands-on community
planning effort “in which community people sit down and develop
visions for their neighborhood” would not only be perfectly
appropriate at the conceptual stage, but is becoming “very
widely practiced in the U.S.” Having community people intimately
involved in developing the strategy is important, said Angotti,
because “if they do, then they’re going to have a much greater
commitment to carrying out the strategy.”
Harris, however, is worried about not being able to please
everyone and about residents setting their sights too high.
“Will we ever have 100-percent consensus?” she said. “No.
We need to build as much consensus as possible around what’s
economically feasible. We could put in a plan that we’ll have
a grocery store, but two years down the road people will just
be frustrated because there was never a chance.”
not good enough to just say we have market analyses,” countered
Angotti, who is currently working on a book about the Cooper
Square neighborhood in New York City, which rebuffed an urban
renewal effort 40 years ago and created its own plan. “It
might just be that the bureaucrats sitting in planning offices
dream up visions that are unrealistic and unfeasible. . .
. There are many more things besides the land market that
make up communities and make communities valuable.”
In fact, many plan supporters and critics alike question the
low projections of demand for for-sale housing returned by
the economist hired by the city.
Although the fear of eminent domain, which LaRose said has
kept people “on the edge of their seats” all year, is behind
much of the emotion surrounding the process, LaRose and others
say they don’t want the process derailed, they just want to
feel listened to and taken seriously.
To that end, they are seeking ways to rework the process so
they can have more of a say. Hacker has suggested polling
all the property owners in the neighborhood to see who is
willing to sell and assemble property for redevelopment that
way. LaRose suggested that the city take the final report
from the consultant Design Collective and use that as a starting
point to “work with residents toward a plan that will work
for everyone,” something that Harris has expressed a willingness
to do. And Joe Galu, the neighborhood association’s corresponding
secretary, suggested setting specific understandable criteria
for the use of eminent domain. “A lot of people would be cheering
for this if we knew what the criteria were,” he said.
Should We Park This Thing?
Albany alderman irked by assemblymans plea to move
a garage being built for state workers
state Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany) asked the Albany
Common Council if it would look into moving a proposed state-worker
parking garage last week, he didn’t expect a response as pointed
as the one he received from Albany Common Council President
Pro Tempore Michael Brown.
With the state’s Office of General Services scheduled to begin
construction on a $25 million, multilevel parking structure
on Sheridan Street in the spring, McEneny is making last-ditch
efforts to bring to fruition a proposal to find the garage
a different home. Two weeks ago McEneny told the council,
as he has anyone who’d listen over the past decade, that the
garage would be of better use to the community if it were
placed on Elk Street, atop OGS’s existing state parking lot.
There, the garage would not only provide parking for state
workers, McEneny said, but it could also be used for special-event
parking in the evenings and on weekends.
The additional parking could attract more people to the Albany
Institute of History and Art, could provide additional parking
for special events like Larkfest, and would be a potential
parking option for the Albany Public Library if it moves into
the Washington Avenue Armory.
don’t have to tear down a single building, you don’t take
a penny off the tax rolls, and you’ve got this spin-off for
weekends and evenings that will be of enormous benefit for
Capitol Hill, lower Central Avenue and Lark Street,” McEneny
said. “Who is supposed to be benefiting from this other than
9-to-5 workers who are transient to the neighborhood?”
But Brown sees things a little differently. Brown views McEneny’s
proposal as an attempt to steal a parking garage from his
constituency, an asset that is hoped to alleviate congestion
on the streets of Sheridan Hollow caused by state workers.
have basically said that the people of Sheridan Hollow live
in the wrong part of the city and as a result don’t deserve
basic services. That is outrageous and it is wrong,” Brown
wrote in a letter to McEneny, which was circulated to council
members, the mayor and a number of state politicians.
Brown blasted McEneny for emphasizing the garage’s use for
special-events parking, and also noted that the construction
of the garage was to coincide with the creation of a memorial
acknowledging the city’s history of slavery. A colonial-era
cemetery for slaves and freemen rests near the site designated
for the garage’s construction, and the state has plans to
build a memorial with the garage.
Considering the months of planning that have gone into the
garage’s construction thus far, McEneny acknowledged that
it would be difficult to change the garage’s placement at
this late stage, but the legislator is hoping that the common
council or Mayor Jerry Jennings will intervene.
mean what is wrong with taking surface-level, state-owned
parking that doesn’t pay anything anyway, and putting layers
on top of it? Surface level parking is the greatest waste
of taxpayers’ dollars,” McEneny said.
Jennings, however, is offering Mc-Eneny’s proposal no support.
The mayor said the garage, and its some 1,500 spaces, needs
to be built on Sheridan Street to deal with the glut of 9-to-5
workers who will be looking for parking after renovations
to the Leo O’Brien federal office building are completed over
the next few years.
Jack should be working on is getting a permit-parking bill
through the Assembly and through the Senate,” Jennings said.
“That should be his number-one priority, not taking away a
Us, or Watched By Us
Local activists react to recent memo showing the FBI slipping
back into some old, sneaky habits
Sam now has an eye for protester guys, according to a confidential
FBI memo recently leaked to The New York Times. The
memo, sent to 15,000 local police forces around the nation,
details how the federal government has been monitoring antiwar
and antiglobalization rallies and is trying to collect personal
information on protesters. It instructs police forces to spy
on these events and report unlawful actions by demonstrators
to the bureau’s counterterrorism agents.
Labeled “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” the Oct. 15 memo, which
can be downloaded in PDF format online at www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/Safeand
Free.cfm?ID=14452&c=207, was drafted in advance of the
antiwar demonstrations that occurred on Oct. 25 in San Francisco
and Washington, D.C. In it the FBI admits it has no knowledge
of any planned disturbances at the rallies, but warns, “the
possibility exists that elements of the activist community
may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive
acts.” The document also appears to equate civil disobedience
with terrorism in directing law enforcement agencies to “report
any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism
memo confirms our fear that the USA Patriot Act and other
anti- terrorism measures instituted by the administration
step way over the line, infringing upon our fundamental free
speech rights. Beware everyone, Big Brother really is
watching you!” said Melanie Trimble, the executive director
of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties
The memo lists sit-ins, marches and banners as traditional
forms of protest, and vandalism, human chains, makeshift barricades,
trespassing and physical harassment of delegates as more aggressive
methods. In an ominous passage, it then says, “Even the more
peaceful techniques can create a climate of disorder, block
access to a site, draw large numbers of police officers to
a location in order to weaken security at another location,
obstruct traffic, and possibly intimidate people from attending
the events being protested.”
The bureau wants to know who these protestors are, the memo
reveals. “After demonstrations, activists are usually reluctant
to cooperate with law enforcement officials,” it says. “They
seldom carry any identification papers and often refuse to
divulge any information about themselves or other protesters.”
The document singles out the use of training camps, the Internet,
cell phones and radios as protest methods to be watched. “It
is interesting and bears watching that the memo singles out
new technologies: Internet, cell phones; in truth these have
become incredible and exponentially empowering tools for fostering
informed, connected participatory citizenship,” said Maureen
Aumand, a local activist affiliated with Women Against War.
Critics have charged that the memo presages a return to the
FBI’s abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, when director J. Edgar
Hoover had dissenters like Martin Luther King placed under
surveillance. Restrictions preventing the bureau from investigating
domestic political groups were later imposed, but last year
Attorney General John Aschcroft relaxed them significantly
as part of the government’s antiterrorism campaign.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week on Nov. 23, the day The
New York Times broke the story, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
(D-Mass.) said of the memo, “This reminds me of the old Nixon
times and the enemies list. . . . That, I think, is a fundamental
flaw of this administration. It is absolutely outrageous in
terms of what this country is about. How could we be fighting
abroad to defend our freedoms and diminishing those freedoms
here at home?”
Lawrence Wittner, a University at Albany history professor
who studies popular protest movements and the author of Toward
Nuclear Abolition, echoed Kennedy, remarking, “Unfortunately,
the FBI seems to have fallen back upon its discredited policy
of spying on law-abiding Americans and confusing nonviolent
dissent with terrorist activity.”
FBI spokesman Whitney Blake refused to comment on the memo,
instead referring to a statement on the bureau’s Web site,
which says in part, “The FBI is committed to protecting the
constitutional rights of all Americans, including those who
oppose current policies of the government. In order to do
so, we must make law enforcement aware of the tactics of those
who wish to impinge on those rights by violently disrupting
otherwise peaceful marches and assemblies.”
Asked if he would be deterred from taking part in future antiwar
events knowing the FBI or local police may be watching, Paul
Tick, founder of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, said he would
not. He added, “Maybe the question of surveillance needs to
be looked at from this overall picture—what is happening to
our country under the Bush administration? Hopefully, more
than ever, people will realize that their involvement is the
only thing that can, in fact, save our democracy.”